JUNE 15th THROUGH SEPTEMBER 23rd
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Le Corbusier (Charles-Edourad Jeannert) (1887-1965) was the world’s first global architect, traveling throughout Europe, Russia, India and South America and often finding inspiration by observing landscapes from the seat of an airplane. He designed and built on three continents before intercontinental jet service.
One of the fathers of modern architecture, he was among the first to anticipate how the automobile would impact where and how people lived as well as the ways new building technology would influence how homes and whole cities would be created.
The new show at MoMA “Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscape” encompasses his work over six decades not only as an architect but also as an interior designer, artist, city planner, writer and photographer.
MoMA is the only North American venue for the show, which draws on the museum’s own collection as well as works from the Le Corbusier Foundation in Paris. The show will then travel to Fudació “la Caixa” in Barcelona (February 6 – May 11, 2014) and to Fundació “la Caixa” in Madrid (June 11 – October 19, 2014).
The show was organized by guest curator Jean-Louis Cohen, Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, with Barry Bergdoll, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA.
The first impression of the exhibition is that while Le Corbusier is best known to Americans as an architect he was equally as talented as an artist working in various genres. The organization of the show is divided into five sections allowing one to follow his evolution as an artist from his early life in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland to his death in 1965 in France. One of the most interesting parts of the show is four room-sized interiors created for the exhibition and featuring furniture designed by Le Corbusier.
His earliest drawings of the Jura mountains near his Swiss home established his sensibility as an artist who recognized the power of landscape, a theme he would return to throughout his life as he designed buildings that were influenced by the surrounding environment. He completed his first home at the age of 20 and left to explore the horizons of Europe outside of his provincial home town.
He traveled and studied in Paris and Berlin and then continued his journeys to Greece and Istanbul via the Balkans. His travels are represented in the exhibition with an extraordinary selection of watercolors and pencil drawings. His sketchbooks reveal an extraordinary power of observation in capturing the varied landscapes of cities and countryside.
The second section of the exhibition focuses on Le Corbusier’s time in Paris where he is seemed almost obsessed with the city’s sites and monuments. He also established himself as a painter and the works in the exhibition show how he arranged objects of daily life into their own landscapes. He opened a studio in 1922 in Paris with his cousin and they continued working together until 1940. Working on parallel projects, the architect developed theoretical schemes such as the Citrohan house (1920), the immeuble-villas (village apartments), the Ville coontemporaine (Contemporary City) 1922 and the “Paln Voisin” for Paris, each of which is represented in the exhibition through drawings.
At the same time, he built villas for the elite of the French capital experimenting with a new architecture made possible by reinforced concrete. Villa Savoye, a modernist villa in Poissey, a suburb of Paris, was one of these homes. It is now recognized as one of the finest examples of modernist architecture and international style.
Not content to focus his attention on Paris, Le Corbusier traveled to Moscow where he was commissioned to build a ministry building, the Centrosoyuz, completed in 1936. One of the first of many disappointments in his career was that he failed to be selected for the Palace of the Soviets in 1932. The original model for this unrealized dream is on view.
A prolific writer, his lecture tours took him to South America where he developed plans for Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo and São Paulo. At the same time he fought in vain to carry out a provocative plan for Algiers. His model of the skyscraper he designed for Algiers is part of the exhibition.
The architect faced new frustrations when the headquarters of the UN, which were based on sketches by him and Oscar Neimeyer, was built by Wallace K. Harrison. His only building in North America is the Carpenter Center at Harvard University.
His dream of designing and building an entire city was realized when he developed the plan for Chandigarh, the new capital of the Indian state of Punjab. His numerous drawings and models for Chandigrah are on display. The influence of ancient Rome is evident in the city’s design.
He was also concerned by what he saw as the proliferation of industrial housing techniques that he believed foster overcrowding. He was the leader of a modernist movement to create better living conditions that would in turn produce a better society through well thought out housing concepts.
The achievements of the last 15 years of his life featured a building in Marseille, a series of 337 double-height apartments assembled on a reinforced concrete frame. The interiors of these apartments were a collaborative effort with built-in kitchen cupboards designed by Charlotte Perriand and steel stairways, designed by Jean Prouvé. The exhibition includes the final room-sized interior. This project for a “unite d’habitation” (housing unit) or a vertical garden city was commissioned for the rehousing of people left homeless by the war and remains the building of choice for the elite of Marseille to this day.
“Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes” is an ambitious show about a driven man. He was confident in his vision despite his critics. The MoMA show is a compelling look at not only the life of a man, but the evolution of architecture in the modern day world.
Contributed by Mary Frances Duffy